How to Handle Living with An Alcoholic

How to Handle Living with An Alcoholic

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Last Updated on March 27, 2021 by Content

Anyone who has been living with an alcoholic for a while would have experienced extreme mood swings. Even though you love this person deeply, you can’t tolerate his or her often erratic behaviour. You’ve attempted everything to get them to quit drinking, from dumping their stash to threatening to leave to bribing them with rewards. Nothing works. Somewhere along the line, you realized that treatment had to be their choice. You wouldn’t be able to choose for them. So what are you going to do? How do you maintain this relationship despite feeling exhausted and frustrated?

First, remember that it’s neither yours nor their fault. Addiction is not the fault of anyone. It is the consequence of various factors, including genetics, circumstances, and emotional health. To recover, they’ll probably need medical attention. Nothing more than taking care of yourself and your family, intervening when the time is right, and supporting your loved ones as they begin making the first steps toward recovery will help.

Meaning of Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcoholism is not the same as drinking a glass of wine every night. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “a chronic disease characterized by recurrent episodes of excess intake of alcohol, loss of control over alcohol intake, and negative mood states when not drinking.” Despite the dangers of alcohol in moderation, many AUD patients consume far more than the recommended limit. Women have a recommended limit of seven drinks per week, and for men, it is 14 drinks a week.

Even the most high-functioning alcoholics may conceal their family members’ and co-workers’ disorders. But it is nearly impossible to hide from those who share a household. On average, only one in ten addicted individuals will seek treatment for their disorder, leaving the rest of their family members suffering in silence.2

How Common is Alcohol Use Disorder?

The National Institute speaking on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that AUD affects around 17 million Americans.3 Another recent study places the number closer to 30 million.4In any case, that’s a significant number of the population struggling with substance abuse and its damaging effects. Throughout their lives, alcoholics may face various health problems, including digestive problems, reproductive difficulties, and blood pressure problems.5

Alcohol causes an estimated 88,000 deaths per year in the US.6 Nearly 37,000 people died from alcohol-related liver diseases in 2015. Alcohol abuse is said to be the third leading cause of preventable deaths. It increases cases of drunk driving, which brings grave consequences.

Sadly, the number of drunken driving deaths in 2015 was precisely 10,265, which accounted for accidents every 51 minutes through that entire year.7

How to Tell A Person is an Alcoholic for Sure

People with AUD sometimes have persistent cravings when they are not drinking, and they often have a difficult time stopping once they begin drinking. People will eventually develop a tolerance to alcohol, which means they will require increasingly large quantities to achieve the same results. On a broad scale, always keep in mind regular drinkers’ attitudes towards alcohol. You will then use these measures to determine if someone you suspect has AUD.

Below are some of the specific signs to look out for:

  • Drinking alone to hide their addiction is common among people who have excessive drinking habits.
  • They suddenly had many cases of blackouts.
  • They drink at certain times and become agitated if they cannot access alcohol.
  • Storing the alcohol in unusual places in their vehicles or office desks, such as the outside of their office.
  • Drink for no other purpose than to get drunk.
  • Experiencing difficulties in your relationship, work, or in your life in general.
  • They are experiencing a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed8

Even though alcoholism is linked to genetics sometimes, it is also not the only risk factor involved. Other risk factors can transform moderate drinkers into addicted drinkers. 

These risk factors include:

  • Binge drinking. Binge drinking is when you consume excessive amounts of alcohol frequently. It is common when you attend social gatherings often. 
  • Drinking alcohol from an early age. Families that see nothing wrong with letting young children drink liquor often breed alcoholics
  • Having alcohol-related disorders or alcohol abuse in a family history 
  • Psychological disorders can increase the risk of developing AUD. 
  • Influences from social influences; for example, friends or family who are heavy drinkers 
  • Drinking alcohol of late exacerbates the effects of a medication 9

AUD can Cause Relationships to Suffer

When they’re sober, your spouse or loved one may be a kind and caring person, but drinking can alter them to be someone else. Unfortunately, emotional and physical abuse often accompany an intoxicated alter ego.

Even sadder is that two-thirds of all the reported alcohol-related incidents of violence happen within close relationships.10

Therefore, partners and children are at an increased risk of witnessing or being victims of a violent crime, such as assault or battery. Suppose your loved one isn’t physically or emotionally abusive when drunk.

In such a situation, they may be harmful to your relationship in other ways, such as missing out on work frequently, spending all their free time at bars, or overspending on alcohol.

Physical abuse, angry tirades, and other issues within your relationship can eventually become too much even for you as a “responsible” partner to bear. 

AUD’s Harm On Relationship with Kids

It is rare for kids to suffer from AUD. Nevertheless, parents or guardians who do leave impending consequences for their children.

According to estimates, roughly 11 million children under the age of 18 have at least one parent suffering from Alcohol Use Disorder.

Children of alcoholic parents have a greater genetic risk of developing the disease themselves. 

Still, they also face severe emotional and psychological consequences.11 These children may face other challenges later in life, including but not limited to:

  •  Trust and intimacy issues 
  • Difficulty with close relationships
  • A desire for constant approval and affirmation
  • Self-loathing and harsh self-judgment
  • Lying for no reason
  • Impulsive behavior without considering the consequences 12

Care for yourself, your AUD family member, and your other family members.

Alcoholism is a hard nut to crack. Hence, it tends to go on for years, leaving the “responsible parties to deal with it for long periods. In the end, you can’t blame yourself for your loved one’s behavior. 

Don’t be hard on yourself — you’re hurting, and you’ve probably developed a lot of anger and resentment from years of disappointment and broken promises. The most important thing you should now do is make sure that your family is physically and emotionally protected while your loved one is drinking. 

It would help if you considered seeking support from your nearest and dearest via private counseling or group therapy (Al-Anon). An appropriate safe place to process, heal, and be encouraged is required, and that cannot come from speaking with the AUD patient alone.

If you have children, you should make sure they have someone they trust wise, like a friend or family member, as a confidant. Additionally, because their other parent cannot meet their emotional needs, you need to listen without judgment. Make sure you’re also making time for fun activities and self-care. Don’t stop living for one family member’s absence.

Stop talking to the AUD patient about their problem. It would only rile them up and lead to arguments or cause them to feel shame. Instead, please speak to a medical professional on the best way to get them to accept help and treatment.

Set Boundaries and Do Not Enable AUD Patients

You might be having a hard time deciding if you should stay in the relationship or not. Even though you love your partner, friend, mother, etc., you no longer enjoy this insane cycle of dreadful unknowns in your life. Friends and family can sometimes be too close to your pain to offer solid advice. 

The people around you wish to protect you, but you’re the only one who can decide to set boundaries. An objective counselor can help you understand and handle your emotions.  If you are certain you want to help your loved one recover or leave, the following tips are starters:

  • Be aware of the signs of a dangerous living situation. Figure out how bad the disease is and what you want to do about it.
  • While you still live with your loved one, you need to ensure that the situation is physically safe for both you and anyone else in the home. Neither emotional abuse nor physical abuse should occur. If your loved one has AUD and they’re violent or vulgar when intoxicated, one of you needs to leave. Until the treatment they need is gotten, it may be best to separate at this point.
  • Don’t let your loved ones who have AUD drink as long as you are present. Please don’t buy them drinks, give them a gift card, or attend gatherings where the temptation might be more significant.
  • When your alcoholic partner is angry because of alcohol intake, trying to keep them “happy” is a bad strategy. You want them to recover completely, not temporarily.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Let them know that you won’t tolerate drinking, and they need to want to get better. People suffering from AUD often reach a crossroad and get forced to pick recovery. Let your boundaries and tolerance lead them to that crossroads.13
  • Don’t allow your loved ones struggling with addiction to blame you for the things they’ve done. If such an act takes place, figure out how to shut it down. Perhaps you avoid confrontation, or maybe you have a friend on hand to gently bring you away from there. Find a way that works for you both and be consistent.

The Next Best Step

Caring for an AUD patient is continuous even after recovering and staying sober. Boundary setting and pulling a plug on further enablement drive in the nail. However, more effective and professional steps are necessary from here on—the next best step after determining to help them recover, to confront and stage an intervention.

Approach a Confrontation The Right Way

It is acceptable to confront a person when they are sober regarding their problem drinking; however, it is not okay to threaten them. Focus the conversation on your feelings and concerns.14 Discuss them in a compassionate and non-judgemental tone.

Most alcoholics refuse to acknowledge their disorder at first. They may try to explain their drinking away with excuses like “It wasn’t that bad” and “It wasn’t my fault.” 15 Be prepared for this and stay calm. Denial usually precedes recovery. You are merely sowing the seeds of change right now. Give them time to grow and bear fruit.

Staging an Intervention

An intervention may be the push your loved one needs to seek treatment. It is an important event, created by family and friends, to help the person realize they have a problem, need help and support. Interventions depicted in TV programs such as The Big Bang Theory and The Walking Dead in recent years often caused a false perception of how what interventions are. 

While the intervention should always serve as a motivator and encouragement to the individual suffering from addiction to seek help, interventions come in more forms than the typical family meeting depicted in mainstream media.

An intervention is a planned procedure that promotes positive change. The family and friends involved would stay calculated in what they say, where, and when to gather. The absence of spontaneity keeps the team on point, avoids blame, makes accusations, and says other hurtful things, making the person unwilling to accept help.

When approaching an intervention, it is best to have a treatment center ready and the individual’s bag packed for a trip. Thus, they will be less likely to change their minds about going after agreeing to go. It is also helpful to have a professional counselor or therapist present, if possible. Also possible would be a few close friends without overpowering, intimidating, or judging them. 

This team will collaborate toward the goal of a successful intervention. Once there is a group, action plans can be for the individual with the addiction. The group gathers all the information from addiction background and medical research to the appropriate treatment program and other lines of acts.

During an intervening situation, be concise in your statements and refrain from lecturing. Be prepared to answer any questions your loved one might have that could ease their worry.16 The therapy works best when the subject agrees to take the initiative. The team most likely has to rehearse all possible scenarios to be steps ahead.

Avoid These During an Intervention:

Sometimes interventions have a negative turn out. The one with the disorder could develop resentment or feel betrayed. Some interventions cause them to drink even more. In a successful intervention, the patient with AUD would be taken to the appropriate rehabilitation immediately or at an agreed time. The delaying treatment process gives too much room for rethink and relapse. 

Below are things to avoid to create the best conditions for successful intervention:

  • Labels: Labelling people with AUD will do more harm than good. Some offensive ones include “addict,” “alcoholic,” “junkie,” etc. These labels come across as condemning. On the other hand, you should focus on neutral terms instead of defining them by their addiction.
  • A Big Crowd: Pick a core group of close friends and family, and stick to a small number of people.
  • Anger: Find ways to manage personal feelings, so the event doesn’t become overrun by strong emotions.
  • Reference To Past: Do not bring up old scenarios when the patient was intoxicated. An intervention should be positive. Everyone’s focus should be on the healthy future the person will have after recovery. The intervention will not be as effective if the subject is intoxicated when it is supposed to happen. Be prepared to wait until the person sobers up.

What Processes are Available as Treatments?

After your loved one arrives at a treatment center, s/he will be evaluated by a professional, followed by detoxification, which often varies depending on individual needs. In some cases, patients leave after detox and continue with outpatient treatment, while in others, they remain in residential care.

The Inpatient Care

The residential rehab program usually lasts four weeks and provides the participant with a consistent alcohol-free and drug-free environment. 

This form of treatment is for anyone who has previously failed to remain sober with outpatient therapy. It eliminates triggers and distractions that could cause the individual to crave a drink.

It is important to note that approximately 95 percent of people with alcohol addiction have withdrawal symptoms in the mild to moderate range.17 This is why medication-assisted treatment may be an excellent option to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Again, the patient and doctor can discuss this during their treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

The Outpatient programs effectively achieve the same treatment and therapy goals. Less discipline and less frequent visits to the facility are the main differences with outpatient care. Participants can pursue their obligations, like working and caring for children, without interruption. 18

Determining which option is best for your loved one relies on a professional doctor or therapist’s advice who can explain the pros and cons for your family. Outpatient treatment may work for one person but not another. Alcoholism is not rare, but the surrounding situations are peculiar for each patient. Whatever methods the well-meaning team decides to recommend for the AUD patient, be sure it is right for them.

Post-treatment Care

Many rehab patients — residential and outpatient — feel anxious about remaining sober after their treatment. They would also require some guidance after they have completed a treatment course. 

Continual support is necessary for settings ranging from religious affiliations and support groups to regular follow-up care provided in a treatment facility itself. Twenty-five percent of alcoholics and their families experience relapses after leaving a treatment program. Twenty-five percent of those who relapse are women.19

Note these when Alcoholics are Recovering

There is always a need for mentorship of strong family support during recovery. There are also chances that relapse may occur. Continue to help in your little way. Keep alcohol away from them. Encourage beverage drinking by joining them sometimes. In the event of relapse, remain patient and steer them towards recovery.

When relapse occurs, it’s crucial to recognize that it does not signify your loved one has failed. With the skills they learned during treatment, they will be able to course-correct and go on with their sobriety. If you want to help your partner or loved one, you need their cooperation. When they choose to get treatment, your support remains vital through it all.

If someone is unwilling to undergo treatment at the moment, do not see it as a failure on anyone’s part. Instead, set healthy boundaries for both of you and live your highest life. Please continue to be the best version of yourself, so they can choose to join you when they’re ready.


Alcohol Use Disorder. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed December 2017.
Seelye, Katharine. “Fraction of Americans With Drug Addiction Receive Treatment, Surgeon General Says” New York Times, November 17, 2016.
Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Accessed December 2017.
Willingham, A.J. “Study Finds 1 in 8 Americans Struggling With Alcohol Abuse.” CNN, August 11, 2017.
Pietrangelo, Ann and Kimberly Holland. “The Effects of Alcohol on Your Body.” Healthline, Reviewed June 9, 2017.
Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed December 2017.
Impaired driving: get the right figures. CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Substance Abuse and Addiction Symptoms. Accessed from WebMD.


10 Alcohol, Drugs and Crime. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Last Updated June 27, 2015.
11 Children of Alcoholics: Important Facts. National Association for Children of Alcoholics, January 2016.

12 Weintraub, Pamela. “Toxic Brew.” Psychology Today, Last Reviewed June 9, 2016.
13 Benton, Sarah. “The Challenges of Dealing With an Alcoholic Loved One.” Psychology Today, April 12, 2011.
14 Benton, Sarah. “Ways to Approach the High Functioning Alcoholic in Your Life.” Psychology Today, June 3, 2009.
15 Blaming Others for Their Problems.” Alcoholic’s Friend, November 2, 2009.
16 Alexander, Rose. “9 Suggestions for Confronting an Alcoholic.” LifeScript, October 20, 2013.
17 Treatment of Alcoholism.” VeryWell, Updated January 9, 2017.

18 Gifford, Steven. “Differences Between Outpatient and Inpatient Treatment Programs.” PsychCentral.

19 Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse

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